Monday, January 2, 2012

Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son by Adam Hochschild 1986

"Mr. Hochschild illuminates, with a rare tact, the situations of fathers and sons, and he avoids the traps of sentimentality and rancor both." From a review by Mary Gordon in the New York Times June 15, 1986

In this engaging memoir, journalist and writer Adam Hochschild (b. 1942) explores the relationship he had with his father, Harold Hochschild, who was the child of German Jewish immigrants. The author’s grandfather, Berthold, who came from a small village near Frankfurt, arrived in America in 1886 traveling first class, sent by his metal trading company to establish an affiliate in the states.

Hochschild writes that his grandfather spoke German and celebrated Christmas. He felt he had nothing in common with the masses of Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and wanted nothing to do with them. His like-minded son Harold did what he could to suppress his Jewish origins. He married a socially prominent Protestant and moved from the Upper West Side enclave of German Jewish immigrants to Park Avenue on the East Side.

Hochschild’s father became the Director of his father’s company, by now a global metal trading company with interests in mines worldwide. A socially ambitious man, Harold Hochschild lived his life purposefully, acquiring all the trappings of success. The author, his only child, had a governess, he was chauffeured to private school, then went away to boarding school, and he traveled all over the world with his parents. Summer months were spent at Eagle Nest, a compound in the Adirondack mountains where the family, aided by a large assortment of cooks, maids, butlers, and groundsmen, entertained large groups constantly.

Harold Hochschild had expectations that his son, Adam, would follow in his footsteps, but Adam Hochschild resisted the pressure he felt his father always applied to keep him on the track he was expected to follow. Because of his father's expectations and because his father was emotionally repressed, he felt tense in his father's presence from as early as he can remember.

After his father’s death, in cleaning out his study, Hochschild came across a memo his father had written in 1940 when Hitler was marching across Europe that helped him to see that many of his father’s behaviors were reactions to his suppressed Jewish identity. His father's memo was about antisemitism and he wrote that Jews should conduct themselves so as to be not singled out as Jews;  they should not call attention to themselves. Harold Hochschild, the son of a successful German Jewish immigrant, did what he could to assimilate into the larger culture, convinced that this strategy was in the best interests of his family.

To read an interesting article about American Jews and assimilation, click here.

Berthold Hochschild
    Harold Hochschild – son of Berthold; married Mary Marquand
        Adam Hochschild – son of Harold and Mary; married to Arlie Russell; author
            David and Gabriel Hochschild – sons of Adam and Arlie
    Walter Hochschild – son of Berhold;
    Gertrude Hochschild – daughter of Berthold; married Boris Sergievsky
        Kira Sergievsky – daughter of Gertrude and Boris
Hannah Blumenthal – cousin (exact relationship unexplained)

New York City
Eagle Nest, Adirondacks, NY
Princeton, NJ
San Fransisco, California

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